On the Spenser series

Voice of the City

By Dennis Lehane

I didn’t publish anything worth noting until the second chapter of my first novel. I say the second chapter, not the first, because the second chapter opens with the line, “The old neighborhood is the Edward Everett Square section of Dorchester.” That’s my voice. The opening line of the first chapter is, “The bar at the Ritz Carlton looks out on the Public Garden and requires a tie.” That is not my voice; that is Robert B. Parker’s voice. In fact, the whole first chapter, with its self-consciously flashy repartee and overtly smartass main character, Patrick Kenzie, cracking wise with excessive abandon, is so faux-Parker, so mimeo-Spenser, so wearing the anxiety of its influence on every inch of its sleeve, that if I could publicly disown it and still have the book make sense, I would do so.

The reason I discovered myself only in chapter two was because that’s when I left downtown for the neighborhoods. My Boston is the Boston of the neighborhoods, the ring around the hub. Robert B. Parker’s Boston is the city proper, The Hub itself. I write about the Victoria Diner and the Ashmont Grill in Dorchester; he wrote about the Parker House and Maison Robert on School Street by Old City Hall. He wrote about Newbury Street, Marlborough Street, and Commonwealth Avenue. I write about East 2nd, the Melnea Cass, and Dot Ave. And when I did wander into Parker’s backyard, I trod lightly and with respect. Because it was his zip code; I  …

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